Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar at the White House on August 23, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Pete Marovich | Getty Images
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is resigning on Jan 20, the same day President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in.
In his resignation letter dated Jan. 12, Azar took a parting shot at President Donald Trump, mentioning the riot at the U.S. Capitol last week, where a violent mob of Trump’s supporters breached the building, injuring dozens of police officers and causing five deaths.
Azar wrote that “the actions and rhetoric following the election, especially during the past week, threaten to tarnish” the legacies of this administration. “The attacks on the Capitol were an assault on our democracy and on the tradition of peaceful transitions of power that the United States first brought to the world.”
Azar’s resignation came after U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and several other Trump administration officials resigned after the president was accused of inciting the violence by directing protesters to head to the U.S. Capitol where lawmakers were finalizing Biden’s win. The mob descended on the Capitol building Wednesday shortly after proceedings began to count the Electoral College votes and confirm Biden’s election.
“With the pandemic raging, the continued need to deliver vaccines and therapeutics to the American people, and the imperative of ensuring a smooth transition to the Biden Administration, I have determined that it is in the best interest of the people we serve to remain as Secretary until the end of the term,” Azar said in his letter addressed to Trump.
“I Implore you to continue to condemn unequivocally any form of violence, to demand that no one attempt to disrupt the inaugural activities in Washington or elsewhere and to continue to support unreservedly the peaceful and orderly transition of power on January 20, 2021.”
In a tweet last week, Azar condemned the riot, saying he was “disgusted.”
“Physical violence and the desecration of this hallowed symbol of our democracy must end. People must immediately and peacefully disperse,” he said on Twitter.
Trump selected Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive, to head the U.S. agency in late 2017, replacing Trump’s first HHS chief, Dr. Tom Price. His department is responsible for overseeing the sprawling Medicare and Medicaid programs as well as U.S. public health, medical research and the safety of food and drugs. He’s been an integral figure in the administration’s Covid-19 response.
Prior to his role, Azar served as the department’s general counsel from 2001 to 2005 and deputy secretary from 2005 to 2007. From 2012 to 2017, he was president of Lilly USA, the American arm of drug giant Eli Lilly.
Azar’s resignation comes amid a once-in-a-century pandemic. The U.S. currently has more than 23.33 million coronavirus cases and has recorded the most virus deaths by a wide margin, with more than 389,000 confirmed fatalities so far, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Federal and state officials are racing to distribute vaccines to prevent Covid-19 and bring an end to the pandemic.
Azar highlighted his efforts to lead his department during what he described as an “unprecedented pandemic.”
“Drawing on my leadership of pandemic flu preparedness efforts during my earlier tenure at HHS and subsequent experience in the private sector, we created a historic partnership with the Department of Defense, our scientists, and the pharmaceutical industry to bring therapeutics and vaccines to the American people in record time,” Azar wrote. “Operation Warp Speed achieved in nine months what many doubted would be possible in a year and a half or more. As of this date, we have two safe and effective vaccines being administered to millions of Americans, with more vaccines likely to be authorized shortly. We have two safe and effective therapeutics that can help keep the vulnerable out of our hospitals, with more therapies on the way … While we mourn every lost life, our early, aggressive, and comprehensive efforts saved hundreds of thousands or even millions of American lives.”
President-elect Joe Biden plans to use FEMA and the National Guard to build coronavirus vaccine clinics across the United States, according to new details of his Covid-19 vaccination plan released by his transition team on Friday.
Read Azar’s full resignation letter below:
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.